By Sean Crose
Rance Barthelemy (23-0) may be the favorite walking in to this Friday’s Spike TV aired bout for the IBF world lightweight title, but it might be a big mistake to write off his opponent, Denis Shafikov (36-1). For the thirty year old Russian has lost but a single bout and that was against Miguel Vasquez (who himself had only been defeated by Canelo Alvarez and Tim Bradley at the time). Shafikov’s also a colorful guy. Anyone who enters the ring essentially dressed as Ghengis Khan makes himself worthy of note.
What’s also notable about Shafikov is that his style is perhaps similar to one Manny Pacquiao. He’s fast, comes forward quickly, and is able to apply an awkward, almost sloppy in-and-out style effectively. Unlike Pacquiao, however, Shafikov doesn’t possess the footwork of a true top level fighter. Or at least he hasn’t. Perhaps people will be in for a surprise on Friday night.
Barthelemy fans would certainly be surprised, for their man is a very skilled fighter in the Cuban style – a polished, frustrating, exceedingly effective general method of defensive boxing – who has also shown he has pop to his punches. What’s more, Barthelemy has a blue ribbon jab. Oh, and he can be entertaining to watch – that’s something that’s not always true of fighters from the Cuban school.
If there’s a weakness to Barthelemy’s game it resides in the fact that he keeps himself too upright. That could make his head a relatively easy target for anyone – like, say, Shafikov – who might pierce that smooth and fluid defense. This should be an entertaining matchup, worthy of main event status on Friday night basic cable television.
Also appearing on the Spike card is Isaiah Thomas (no, not that Isaiah Thomas), the 15-0 cruiserweight from Detroit who was apparently held in high regard by the late Emmanuel Steward, and who employs effective straight punching as well as a solid defense. Thomas will be facing the 22-0 Russian Murat Gassiev, a hard hitting stablemate of Gennady Golovkin’s.
Gassiev has been keeping busy, having had three fights this year already. Needless to say, none of those bouts went the distance. In fact, the last time a Gassiev match saw the final bell was eight fights and nearly two years ago. Indeed, Thomas needs to be careful here. Having said that, however, it’s worth noting that Thomas was able to use his own strength to fend off hard punching Jordan Shimmell when the two met last summer.
Indeed, the Spike card, which is part of Al Haymon’s PBC series, should be an interesting one. Coming live from the Palms in Vegas, it offers what boxing fans appreciate most – interesting matchups. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any of the four above mentioned names emerging victorious. And that sets the stage for good television.